- Sprinter safe but tired, Austrian official says
- Poland offered refuge to Tsimanouskaya and her husband
- Case sheds light on Belarus rights record
- Olympic body opens investigation
TOKYO / VIENNA, Aug.4 (Reuters) – Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was safe in Vienna on Wednesday, Austrian officials said, after flying from Tokyo under Polish diplomatic protection three days after refusing her order. team to return early from the Olympics.
The apparent Cold War-style defection of an athlete has been one of the main stories of the Games and may further isolate Belarus, which is subject to Western sanctions after President Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on its opponents since last year.
After spending two nights at the Polish Embassy, the 24-year-old sprinter boarded a plane at Narita Airport in Tokyo, dressed in jeans, a blue blouse and sunglasses wearing the inscription “I RUN CLEAN”.
“She is safe and doing well under the circumstances,” Austrian deputy environment minister Magnus Brunner told reporters after his Austrian Airlines flight landed in Vienna. “She’s understandably worried, excited and nervous about what’s going to happen to her.”
Tsimanouskaya was due to travel to Poland, which granted her a humanitarian visa and another to her husband to join her.
The sprinter was all the rage on Sunday when she said coaches asked her to pack her bags at the Olympic Village and took her to the airport against her will, ordering her to go home because she criticized them . She refused to board the flight and sought protection from the Japanese police.
“I will not return to Belarus,” she told Reuters at the time.
Belarus’ National Olympic Committee (NOC) did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Previously, he said coaches decided to remove Tsimanouskaya from the Games on the advice of doctors regarding his “emotional and psychological state”.
She was originally scheduled to fly directly to Warsaw on Wednesday, but a Polish government source said she was transferred at the last minute on the flight from Vienna after news of her route became public. Concern was high because of an incident in May when a Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus and a dissident journalist was arrested, the Polish source said.
BELARUS REMAINS CALM
A spokesperson for the Belarusian Interior Ministry could not be reached to comment on Tsimanouskaya’s security. Belarusian government officials have so far said little publicly about his case.
The case took place amid growing concern for the safety of Lukashenko’s critics, including in neighboring countries, following a crackdown that saw tens of thousands of arrests in Belarus.
Vitaly Shishov, a Belarusian activist living in Ukraine, was found hanged Tuesday morning in a park near his home in Kiev. Ukrainian police have opened a murder investigation, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has ordered a safety review of Belarusian exiles. Read more
The sport plays a prominent role in Belarusian politics under Lukashenko, a hockey player and cross-country skier known for participating in televised races in which his opponents fall before crossing the finish line. Lukashenko personally headed the Belarusian Olympic committee until he was replaced by his son this year. His website quotes him as saying “Sport is our ideology”.
The International Olympic Committee has opened an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case and said on Wednesday it had received a report from the Belarusian team.
“The IOC opens a disciplinary commission to establish the facts of this case and hear the two officials – Artur Shumak and Yuri Moisevich – who were allegedly involved in this incident,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Lukashenko’s government of “transnational repression” in this affair. Read more
Police cracked down on dissent in Belarus following a wave of protests sparked by last year’s elections which the opposition said were rigged to keep Lukashenko in power.
Belarusian authorities have branded the anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and have called the actions of their own law enforcement appropriate and necessary.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo, Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and Ayhan Uyanik in Vienna Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Parniyan Zemaryalai, Akira Tomoshige, Angie Teo, Pak Yiu, Douglas Busvine Writing by William Mallard and Peter Graff Editing by Leela de Kretser and Andrew Cawthorne
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